College 101

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College isn”t what it used to be. This generation of students – whether heading to campus this fall or just contemplating their options as a current high school student – will have a college experience completely unlike that of their parents.

What”s so different? For starters, the "how, when and where" of college has changed dramatically. In fact, for an increasing number of students, college now begins in high school. While those junior and senior years were once only a time for college preparation, research and visits, now teens are actually earning significant college credit while still in high school. For those that take advantage of these options, it”s a way to shorten the length – and expense – of college, make time for additional courses, or hasten the entry into their major field of study.

Give yourself credit

There are a host of options for those who want to be college-bound without ever leaving their home address and, in some cases, their high school classroom. Advanced Placement (AP) classes, joint enrollment and dual enrollment all give students the chance to earn college credit before high school graduation. While for many students, logging college hours is the primary goal, these programs also offer the added benefits of gaining experience with college-level work and of impressing college admissions representatives.

"Most selective colleges expect students to take advantage of the most rigorous curriculum available at their high school," says Nancy McDuff, associate vice president for admissions and enrollment management at the University of Georgia. "In most cases, this will be the College Board Advancement Placement courses, which have national criteria established and a standardized test at the end."

Even students attending high schools that don”t offer AP classes are able to enroll. "Many states are now offering online AP classes for students whose schools do not offer AP courses," McDuff says.

Taking challenging classes does have a bigger impact than just allowing students a chance at earning college credit. Lori Davis, a college counselor at Greater Atlanta Christian School, says "More challenging classes typically require

students to be more independent in the way they work on the material presented. In a college environment, students are expected to be mature and independent learners to a great extent."

Davis says students can start thinking about college as early as middle school. When students enter high school, they should think about taking classes that challenge them and by their junior year of high school, they should have realistic college choices narrowed down.

"We strongly encourage students to take advantage of their family travels by visiting college campuses at every opportunity beginning in their freshman year," Davis says. "Students and parents have to like the environment offered by the college, and a college visit helps identify the right fit."

Doubling up on education

In addition to starting high school by thinking about advanced course work and deciding on a college early, Cathy Maxwell, vice president of academic affairs at Gwinnett Technical College, says it is extremely beneficial for students to consider dual or joint enrollment opportunities.

These opportunities allow students a chance to start earning college credit while still in high school. "It can certainly be a jump start on a college education or help students that are thinking about going directly into the workforce," she says.

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